No Athlete Left Behind

A hypothetical Analogy

On July 1, 2012, influenced by a lawsuit, and/or legislative action, the FHSAA Rules Committee proposes an addition to the operating bylaws of track and field: All athletes shall perform at minimum standards by March 1, 2015, or not achieve varsity status, and thus be unable to compete for their member school in the state qualifying competition that (current) season.

Well-presented by the committee chairman, and sounding perfectly reasonable, it emerges as a rule, and is entered into the official FHSAA Track and Field handbook for the 2015-2016 academic year. It is only then, in the hands of coaches, that it is finally realized that the wording says every athlete must perform at minimum standards of all events. Being that the committee members, having backgrounds in sports where all team members perform basically the same activities, they did not realize that the majority of events in track and field require different skills. What emerges is that all track team members must be able to run 100 meters in under 15 seconds, the mile in less than 7:00, throw the shot put at least 20’, high jump over 4’, and long jump 12’ or more in order to compete for his/her team.

What seemed perfectly sound in committee, however, was in practice a nightmare. Consider the typical high school “weight person” passing the mile or jump standards, or the typical distance runner throwing the shot, or doing the long jump. And since there can’t be discrimination, the same standards exist for both sexes.

Sound crazy? Well, yeah. None the less, however crazy these suggestions are, they currently exist in the classroom. And the more state education laws are tightened by well-meaning “experts,” the more failures it creates.

When any testing procedure is formulated, it has to be based upon a “norm.” But in the real world, norms don’t actually exist as iron-clad boundaries. In the classroom you have all levels of intelligence, students who fall into “special education” categories, those whose families speak non-English languages, and those who are markedly different in chronological and social maturity. What does this have to do with track? Simple. If you don’t keep your grades up, you can’t compete.

This season, I saw two of the state’s best athletes “benched,” for want of a better word, due to academic limitations. I am sure that these weren’t the only ones.  Although the aforementioned are both underclassmen, it is still a tragedy that can never be reversed. Besides altering their image in terms of a future college scholarship—thus affecting the rest of their lives—it is possible that the suspensions’ effect upon their self-image might have long-term consequences.

Might not this scenario have been reversed with remediation? If these student-athletes strayed from their responsibilities, why not offer additional class time, and tutorial support, until they are again performing as required? As home-schooled students know well, class doesn’t have to end at 2:30 PM. And missing a couple of practices a week can be made up, while a district meet cannot.

The key to the solution here, if I might suggest, is to keep the student/athlete involved in track. There are two reasons: (1) It might be his strongest “subject,” be that what it may; and (2) An athlete who already excels in his sport, will certainly be no stranger to the extra effort required to stay there. Plus, a college scholarship is worth far more, both in dollars and sense than making a point.

But once an athlete’s spirit is broken, he might hate school forever. I know this last concept well, as I taught special education—more precisely kids who were expelled from school--for 33 years.

The golden rule here should be “Plan for success, not for failure.” Coaches do it, why not public school administrators too?